Troop Horse Gallant has had the honour of representing the passing of the last WWI veteran for eight years until Anzac Day 2017. He has now retiring and will spend the rest of his days at pasture on a Taree property owned by Rodney O’Regan, Vice President of the Australian Light Horse Association. Each year Gallant has been led by Senior Constable James Fox and they are a favourite drawcard for many visitors to the annual march.
But who was the last WWI veteran? And when did they pass away? This is not as straightforward as it might seem. According to Andrew Holmes, a British correspondent for US-based Gerontology Research Group “It’s a common misconception that a veteran must be someone who saw action or fighting in the trenches. A veteran is someone who served in one of the Armed forces, regardless of their role – a medic, an ambulance driver or a waitress – they all count. Obviously the last surviving veterans of any war are likely to be the youngest and therefore would not have served long.”
Mr Holmes tracks people over the age of 110 and validates their ages, and keeps track of British subjects over the age of 107. Florence Green was the last surviving WWI veteran anywhere in the world. She died in February 2012 at the age of 110, just 2 weeks short of her 111th birthday. Young Florence joined the Women’s Royal Air Force in September 1918 just two months before the war ended. She was seventeen and worked as a steward in the Officer’s Mess at Narborough Airfield and RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Prior to that Claude Choules, a British-born sailor, was the last surviving WWI combat veteran when he passed away in Western Australia at 110 years of age. The last British survivor of the WWI trenches was Harry Patch, known as the “The Last Tommy”, died in July 2009 at age 111.
Here in Australia John Campbell Ross of Bendigo, our last remaining WWI veteran, died on 3 June 2009 at 110 years of age. He enlisted as a wireless operator but the war ended before he saw active service. Prior to that the last Australian to serve overseas in WWI was Evan Allan who died in October 2005 at 106 years having joined the Royal Australian Navy at just 14, and stayed on to see action in WWII. And Peter Casserly, the last Australian survivor of the Western Front battles, died in July 2005.
Alec Campbell was the “Last Anzac”, a survivor of the Gallipoli campaign and Ted Matthews, the last Australian survivor to have landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Roy Longmore was the second last Anzac to go before Alec Campbell. And Len Hall was one of the first Australians to enlist for WWI, with his service number 52, when he joined at just 16 years 5 months.
John Masefield said of the Anzacs “….about 85 years later, the first thing people noticed about Alec, Roy, Ted, Len and the other old men of Gallipoli was their gentleness, and the contrast between this quality and the violent streak in their past. The next thing was their accepting nature. They rarely asked for anything. They accepted their lot in life, just as they had at Gallipoli.”
In the words of General Sir Ian Hamilton, the British commander “Before the war, who had ever heard of Anzac? Hereafter, who will ever forget it?” According to Tony Stephens, author of The Last Anzacs, the old men “used their ebbing years to ram home the message that most battlefields are unsatisfactory places to resolve arguments”.
On Wikipedia you can find a list of the last WWI survivors by country. Here are just a few: Belgium Cyriel Barbary (died 16 September 2004 age 105); Canada John Babcock (died 18 February 2010 age 109); France Pierre Picault (died 20 November 2008 age 109); German Empire Erick Kästner (died 1 January 2008 age 107); New Zealand Bright Williams (died 13 February 2003 age 105); Ottoman Empire Yakup Satar (died 2 April 2008 age 110) and Russian Empire Mikhail Krichevsky (died 26 December 2008 age 111).
Lest we forget!